The debate's biggest loser: CNBC

I somehow managed to stay awake and largely engaged for both of the debates last night, and judging by the nearly two thousands comments in the debate thread most of you did as well. Everyone enjoys going to bat for their favorite candidates and picking a “winner” in these shows, but after those several torturous hours it’s impossible to avoid starting off with who the real loser was. At the halfway point of the the main stage debate I tweeted the following:

We’ve had some bad debate formats before, but CNBC managed to bury the bar at a new low water mark. The format in the undercard debate was simply awful as the hosts tried to play tough guy (or gal) with the candidates, imposing stupidly short time limits for answers when there were only four candidates and a lot of time to fill. Every time they tried to answer each other and mix it up the mods were rudely shouting them down and shutting off all opportunities for the four of them to engage. As for the candidates themselves, Graham once again put on a masterful show under the circumstances and I felt he was the only one who really stood out. (For all the good it’s going to do him.)

The main stage debate was, if anything, even worse. The candidates got tough on them to try to steer the show back to something useful, but the hosts did their best to keep it on a downward trend. As soon as it was over the RNC Chair weighed in with his own disgust.

“While I was proud of our candidates and the way they handled tonight’s debate, the performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters,” Priebus said in a statement. “Our diverse field of talented and exceptionally qualified candidates did their best to share ideas for how to reinvigorate the economy and put Americans back to work despite deeply unfortunate questioning from CNBC.”

The WaPo offers up the five big confrontations between CNBC moderators and the candidates this morning, and if the focus of that much attention is on the moderators and not the substance of the candidates’ positions you know something has gone off the beam. Some of the biggest applause lines of the night did not come from presidential hopefuls making good points or scoring shots at their opponents, but when the candidates took umbrage with the horrible moderation. The crowd seemed ready to revolt at several points.

But with all of that said, there were still moments where the voters got at least something out of the candidates and there were a few of them who did pretty well. Surprisingly, Chris Christie had a pretty good night though I wouldn’t call him the winner. When he went off the hook about a fantasy football question he really seemed to have the crowd on his side and he made a forceful case about being the one best prepared to take on Hillary Clinton.

Ted Cruz didn’t get enough questions for my taste, but when he did he made the most of him. Given his lower standing in the polls and outside position on the stage I’d say he might be declared the winner, or at least one of the winners. He injected himself into several key points of discussion, even over the moderators’ objections, and got the best of several of those fights. He looked more presidential than most of the folks on the stage.

I thought Carly Fiorina once again put in a solid performance with good answers and no slip-ups, but there weren’t any real breakout moments for her.

Donald Trump had a winning night without setting off any explosions on the stage or giving his critics anything to sink their teeth into. Despite one poll (and only one) showing him slipping a bit nationally, Trump is still the frontrunner and he carried himself like one. As with several others, one of his best moments was when he announced how he had beaten CNBC in negotiating the length of the debate. The crowd was eating out of his hand. It was a good night for Trump.

Carson was, I thought, pretty weak on his first few questions and seemed a bit disoriented. But later on he got into his stride and went on to have one of his better performances to date. The moderators tried to insult him several times to the point where the other candidates were defending him and he did nothing to harm his chances.

Perhaps the person who had the best night (and who very much needed it) was Marco Rubio. He got hit pretty hard many times by the moderators (drawing boos from the crowd at one point) but he swatted them down well. He was on top of all the issues which did manage to get discussed and had some very solid answers. His best moment, however, came with the engagement he had with the one person I would have to list as being the ultimate loser of the night aside from CNBC… Jeb Bush. Jeb tried to jump on the recent story about how many votes Rubio has missed and got off what sounded like a rather scathing attack. Rubio turned around and essentially floored Bush with his response, having one of his most serious, “I’m the grown up in the room” moments of the night.

That wasn’t the only low point for Jeb either. He seemed largely out of sync for the entire night and faded off into the corner of the stage like a guy running at less than 5% in the polls. He might have done better on the under card stage. Buzzfeed described Bush as being in a “death spiral” which might be a bit strong, but you just may have seen the beginning of the end of Bush’s campaign last night.

The Weekly Standard quickly proclaimed the three winners of the night to be Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump. To my way of thinking, these debates are rarely if ever that clear cut, but in general terms I’d have to agree. Those are the three who probably benefited the most from the opportunity they were given. Several others, particularly at the kid’s table, should really consider getting out of this race and making way for the finalists once the dust settles.

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